I started reading Alexandre Dumas’s famous book The Three Musketeers when I was 15 years old, half a lifetime ago. I remember reading, oh, 100+ pages or so and enjoying it. However, I was distracted by something else and set it down, vowing one day to pick it up again. It took 18 years and I’ve finally (reread and) finished the damn book. Huzzah.
For the record, the things I enjoyed about it half a lifetime ago have had the edges worn off with personal experience. I’ve discovered things in the last two decades like Feminism, and cultural appreciation… and that I do not have to finish books I am not enjoying. I finished this book though as a matter of personal pride because I vowed to almost 2 decades ago. I did not love it though. It’s a very dated, very male book.
Much of the book follows the exploits of D’Artagnan, a youth from Gascony, as he attempts to join the King’s royal guards, the Musketeers. Shortly after his arrival in Paris the Cardinal Richelieu disbands the guards and D’Artagnan is left floundering. He hooks up with three men, said Musketeers – Porthos, Aramis, and Athos. The rest of the book follows the four’s attempts to buck political schemings between the Cardinal, the Duke of Buckingham, and a number of other people.
This book is a prime example of what is wrong about Victorian serialized novels… It’s too damn long. It’s a book where the author clearly was paid by the word…and the syllable… and the letter… and the punctuation mark… There is a lot of unnecessary text within the context of this novel and as a result the novel drags and drags. I always advocate reading books in their complete form, unabridged. This book, however, might be better served with having at least 200 pages cut out. There is so much padding to it I wonder it Dumas was paying for an estate with the profits. Or a mistress. There’s a lot of fat to the book.
The women characters, at large, are loathsome. It took Dumas over 100 pages to introduce any (besides a peripheral innkeeper’s wife) and when he does they are all pieces of work – The queen who might be cheating on her husband, the married woman who snatches D’Artagnan’s eye who has a love affair with him, the female spy who manipulates everything… Sigh. I wonder what Dumas thought of the female sex in general because if this is any example it’s clear that he was not a fan. Now, one can make the argument that this is how many male writers have portrayed women and that Dumas is just one of many but to write every single female main as a vile harridan just seems like he’s making a point. And it’s a point I don’t appreciate as a woman, to say the least of being a twenty-first century woman. Wer are not all disloyal shrews.
Besides that, the male posturing in this book is so heavy handed it chokes the reader. I told a friend while I was in the midst that I felt as if the males were walking around with hands on hips and jutting erections protruding from their loins. I wish this, in fact, was the “sword fighting” they were talking about so frequently because the metaphor certainly feels apt with this book. “We’re going to fight…with our cocks. And we are going to repeatedly hit you upside of your head to make points… with our cocks.” Much of the book is very “We are manly men and these are our manly men friends and our manly men dealings. Let’s get drunk and be men!” I sort of wish Monty Python would have made a film version of this book. I think that is exactly how they would have conceptualized it and that would have been semi-charming at least. I was not overly charmed by these men. In fact I began to grow weary of them forcing their erections on me.
There are some interesting points to this novel. There had to have been, or I wouldn’t have continued with it. Much of the court intrigue was quite thrilling. And I did love the dynamic of the four main characters and their separate personality quirks. I would have loved this book had it not been so penis-centric. As it was I felt as if they were gagging me with their manhoods… and I mean every bit of disgust over that euphemism. Parts of this book made me feel dirty that I was still reading it. I felt like I was betraying my sex when I loved it, and I felt let down by the fact that this is a classic when I hated it. Mostly, I just checked out. It was the only way to finish it, to read it half mast. With half of an erection.
… 2.5 to 3 stars out of 5. It’s a hard one to judge, but overall I wouldn’t ever read it a second time.